Stephanie R. Brown, who worked for nearly three decades with special-needs children at the Maryland Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents helping them realize their education potential, died Saturday of a gastrointestinal stromal tumor at Gilchrist Hospice Care.
The Cockeysville resident was 58.
Stephanie Raphel was born in Baltimore and spent her early years in Rodgers Forge before moving with her family in 1956 to Roanoke, Va., where she graduated in 1970 from Patrick Henry High School.
Mrs. Brown earned a bachelor's degree in education in 1974 from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland and a master's degree in reading in 1978 from the Johns Hopkins University.
She began teaching reading in Baltimore public schools in the 1970s and joined the Maryland Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents in Catonsville — also known as RICA — in 1978.
Mrs. Brown eventually became chairman of the individualized education program, which worked with students designing educational programs or locating schools that met their needs.
"Stephanie was a true educator who went into education to help children. She dealt with children with significant educational problems," said Mary C. O'Melia, who was principal of the institute from 1997 to 2004.
"She was an advocate and always a champion for the kids with the biggest problems," said Dr. O'Melia, who is now a resource teacher for Baltimore County public schools.
"She worked hard in making sure they were placed in the appropriate school and that their needs were met. She was always in control and had a way of making people feel good about themselves," she said.
"Stephanie truly cared about children from her first day as an educator until her last," Dr. O'Melia said.
Joan Strickler, who is also a Baltimore County public school educator, had been a friend of 40 years and her undergraduate college roommate.
"I remember this sweet young girl from Roanoke with a carload of stuff arriving at Notre Dame College in 1970, and we've been friends ever since," said Ms. Strickler.
"At RICA, she always had lots of interaction with the students, and she was determined to design educational programs that helped them become better. She was a gentle soul, and people loved her," said Ms. Strickler.
"And the kids loved her because she was interested in them and they knew she wanted them to get better," she said. "Stephanie just had a great way with children."
Ten years ago, Mrs. Brown was diagnosed with the rare form of cancer that eventually claimed her life, and she retired in 2004, said her husband of 29 years, Patrick L. Brown Sr., who is a co-founder and partner in Willow Financial Service LLC and Positions Wealth Advisory Group LLC.
At the time of her retirement, Mrs. Brown was given a citation in recognition of her work at RICA from then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Mrs. Brown also sought treatment for her disease at Duke University and the Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston.
"After being diagnosed with cancer, she continued to retain a positive and optimistic outlook on life," Ms. Stricker said. "She endured 10 surgeries, never gave up, and never broke down or said, 'Why me.' "
Ms. Strickler recalled that only three weeks ago, Mrs. Brown was helping her select colors for a bathroom she was having refurbished.
"We all learned a lot from Stephanie. She never gave up the fight against cancer and said she was going to beat it," Ms. Strickler said. "We will miss her very, very much."
Mrs. Brown was a gifted interior decorator and enjoyed helping family and friends remodel their homes. She also liked traveling on buying trips with Betsy Ihram, a sister-in-law who owns a store in Connecticut.
She was an active member of the American Counsel on Italian Matters, served on the board of the American Student Fund and was a member of the Parents Counsel at Pennsylvania State University.
Mrs. Brown was a member of the Center Club, Johns Hopkins Club and the Towson Golf and Country Club, where she enjoyed golfing.
Mrs. Brown was a communicant of St. Jude Shrine Roman Catholic Church on North Paca Street.
A Mass of Christian burial will be held at noon Wednesday at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5300 N. Charles St.
In addition to her husband, survivors include a son, Patrick L. Brown Jr. of Cockeysville, and her parents, Joseph and Evelyn Raphel of Roanoke.